The art of locks made from wood and rope

ancient Coptic wooden lock from The Metropolitan Museum of Art


The Metropolitan Museum has this interesting piece of “art” in their collection – a wood and rope lock from circa 580–640, from the ancient civilization in Thebes, Egypt (the ruins of which lie within the modern Egyptian city of Luxor). It is referred to as being “Coptic,” and I have to admit that I needed to look that up: “Copts” are a Christian ethno-religious group of people that are indigenous to North Africa, who have primarily inhabited the area of modern Egypt and Sudan since antiquity. Why is this in an art museum? I’m glad it is, as it is prompting this little lesson I’m giving myself (and sharing here) – the Met classifies it in their collection of “woodwork, miscellany,” and it’s definitely an interesting visual object. It took some creativity to be imagined and created, and while it may be more of an “artifact” than it is “art” (in the contemporary version of the word), I think it’s a fantastic object. It makes me wonder, how is this a lock? How does it work? The page on the Met’s website for this object doesn’t explain how it works, but I think I may have found something related which might help explain it – scroll down for more.

ancient Coptic wooden lock from The Metropolitan Museum of Art
Ancient Coptic lock from 580–640 from the permanent collection of The Metropolitan Museum of Art.

I did a search for “Coptic wooden lock,” and came across this video which describes how to make an “ancient Egyptian wooden lock from a single 2×4.” I can’t be sure that the Met’s Coptic lock is designed the exact same way as the lock in this video, but seeing the holes in the central piece of wood in the picture above right makes me think that the concept could be very similar to what is in the video. Check out this cool video, you only need to get 15 seconds in to see the conceptual cross-section view that shows the interior mechanics, but check out the whole video, if you have time.

Just for fun, if you’d like to see what else The Metropolitan Museum of Art holds in their collection that falls under the parameters of “wood” and “woodwork,” check out the link here.

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